Flair for Theatrics
by Michael Mendoza

PREVIOUSLY : For the past two weeks, Nyla Shapire halted several crimes as the Patroller Aventine. When she was shot by an obsessed fan, she panicked and severely injured her assailant. Upset by her lack of composure, Nyla took a break from her Patrol duties to relax and spend more time with her housemates. After her exploits were reported on the CNN show "Patrolwatch", she decided to find someone to help her remain cool under fire.
   December 13
   On a cloudy afternoon, Nyla dressed for jogging. She had never been out of shape, but now that she was a Patroller, it seemed appropriate to be as physically fit as possible.
   Before she hit the streets, she turned off the VCR. She had been watching taped episodes of "Solar Flare Crusader". Then she opened a psychic link with her Recharger. It telepathically transmitted the greeting "Hello, Nyla." She felt like someone had poked a hole in her thoughts and an overwhelming presence trickled inside. "Your Gauntlet is fully replenished," said the Recharger. "Do you wish to wield it?"
   "Sure." The silver liquid which formed the Gauntlet enveloped Nyla's left hand and solidified. The sensation sent goosebumps over her body. She covered the Gauntlet with a construct which resembled her left hand, right down to the bitten fingernails. "I have a question for you," she said. "Do you have any contact with the other Rechargers on Earth?"
   "Yes. We maintain a database on the status of Earth's Patrollers."
   "So you could pinpoint a specific Patroller if you wanted to?"
   "I could locate Rechargers as well as Patrollers if they are wielding the Gauntlet. Is there a particular Patroller whom you wish to locate?"
   "Yeah. You know how I get all wound up whenever I'm on duty. Well, I figure I could get some help from another Patroller. One who's good under pressure. It'd also be nice just to meet another Patroller. I'd like to meet Solar Flare. He fights criminals on his show every week and he looks like he knows what he's doing. Also, he's also the only Patroller I know who's actually heard of me."
   "Shall I locate him?"
   "Actually, do you think you could you send him a message?"
   The Recharger paused. "Yes. I can record a message from you and transmit it to Solar Flare's Recharger. He will receive the message via psychic link the next time he recharges his Gauntlet. Would you like to record that message now?"
   December 15 1993
   "My client wanted me to convey his sincere apologies for not being available today, Miss Shapire," said Mitsuko Hasegawa. Mitsuko was Solar Flare's business manager. Nyla met him at the Chantecler restaurant for lunch.
   He wore a flowing red shirt and tie. Despite his thin frame and missing right arm, he maintained an impressive presence. He looked like he was thinking about three different things at the same time.
   "That's no problem," said Nyla. "I'm sure he's busy breaking up some crime ring or another."
   "Yes. May I ask, Miss Shapire-"
   "Nyla. What brings you from America to Nice?"
   "Well, Mom grew up here, and I spent my childhood summers here. Mom taught me the language and made sure I never let it get rusty."
   "And now?"
   Nyla sighed and looked around. "Now I'm just visiting friends."
   Their waiter brought their meals and five minutes passed quietly. Nyla watched Mitsuko vigorously consume his lunch. Then he asked "You have seen my client's television program, is that correct?"
   "Oh yeah, we watch it all the time on the International Channel."
   "Mm. Yes. 'Solar Flare Crusader' has become very popular worldwide over these past few months. It has made my client a very controversial figure. The popularity he enjoys has not been seen in Hong Kong since the days of Bruce Lee. Sometimes I think that people revere him so much because the only other possible reaction to a being as unique as my client is fear."
   Nyla picked at her meal and tried to think of an intelligent response but Mitsuko cut off her train of thought. "Nyla, would you like to make a guest appearance on the program?"
   Nyla chewed her food slowly to stall for time. An appearance on television was the last thing she expected out of this meeting. "You know, I've been wondering about that show. Those aren't real criminals Solar Flare fights, are they?"
   "Why would you think otherwise?"
   "Well, it's supposed to be filmed live, right? But still you use all kinds of tricky camera angles which seem too complicated for live television. I mean, you couldn't possibly have all the equipment you'd need for that kind of camerawork in every crime den Solar Flare breaks into. And what about the crew? Wouldn't they be in danger?"
   Mitsuko chuckled. It was the first sign of emotion he'd shown. "I can assure you, everything Solar Flare does is authentic. As for filming techniques, I am afraid that is a trade secret."
   "That's just as well. It'd probably be above my head anyway."
   Mitsuko cracked a small smile. "Don't be so sure. Would you like to see for yourself?"
   Nobody was nearby, but Nyla leaned forward and spoke softly. "Yeah, well, the reason I got in touch with Solar Flare in the first place was because I'm not nearly as good at this crimefighting business as he is. And once I lost my cool and really hurt someone by accident. I wanted Solar Flare to help me with that. Give me pointers. Show me the ropes. After that, who knows?"
   "Could you come to Hong Kong as our guest anytime soon?"
   "Well, I'm going home for Christmas next week. How about this weekend?"
   "Can I just ask you one thing?"
   Nyla whispered, "How long have you been a Patroller?"
   Mitsuko stopped chewing his food. "Excuse me?" he asked with a full mouth.
   Nyla smiled triumphantly. "Don't worry. It's not obvious. Your mask hides your face pretty well, and I'm assuming that you use your Gauntlet to generate a right arm. That should keep the unsuspecting unsuspecting. But you gesture a lot with your left arm but not your right. And you can tell that you're lowering your voice to disguise it. Also, Solar Flare said on Patrolwatch that he loved French cuisine, and the way you wolfed down lunch, I thought you two might share more than a taste for Nicois dishes."
   "Hmph. You are a very perceptive girl, Miss Shapire."
   "Nyla," she reiterated.
   "I would thank you to keep your theory to yourself. In many ways, my life hangs by a thread of anonymity." Mitsuko nodded at his missing arm. "That is why I confront criminals."
   Nyla worried that she had just offended Mitsuko, but then he smiled.
   "The cameras are just for fun."
   Nyla laughed. She still felt out of her depth, but at least she wasn't alone anymore.

December 16
   Nyla was picking up her travel wardrobe off her bedroom floor when Lexi knocked on the door. "Nyla?"
   "Just a moment." She kicked the dresser door closed to hide her Recharger. "Yes?"
   Lexi walked in. "Getting ready for Hong Kong?"
   "Yep. Last-minute packing and all that."
   "Need a ride to the airport?"
   "Oh, no thanks. I've got someone picking me up. I just didn't want to trouble anyone. That's all."
   A moment passed. "Nyla, how long did you think you could keep your little secret?"
   "Wh- what do you mean?" Nyla fell back against the dresser door and tried to act as innocent as possible. This only emphasized the fact that she had something to hide.
   "Francois saw you at lunch with that Asian guy." Lexi folded her arms and smiled. "Does Prince Charming have a name?"
   Nyla laughed and sighed with relief at the same time. "Oh, him." She sat on her bed. "Mitsuko. He's some kind of a business agent from Hong Kong. He handles celebrities."
   "How long have you known him?"
   "Well, I have to admit, it's been kind of a whirlwind thing."
   "I'll bet. Why did you keep this so hush-hush?"
   "Oh, it's just, well-"
   "It doesn't matter. Just keep us in the loop, alright? What kind of friends would we be if we couldn't keep up-to-date on all your dirt?"

What kind of friend indeed, wondered Nyla. She'd kept so much bottled up, hidden from Lexi and Jen. Her Gauntlet was only one of her secrets. But that was something to ponder another day.

NEXT: Ghosts of Long Ago

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Copyright 1995, 1997 by Michael Mendoza